CRAIG Brown has always been one of the most diplomatic men in football, ever looking for the positive side in any situation.
But when it comes to Kris Commons’ decision to call time on his Scotland career, even the former national manager finds it hard to avoid severe criticism of the Celtic player.
Commons said last week that he had ended his Scotland career in order to spend more time with his young family. But, as Gordon Strachan’s squad gather today ahead of next Friday’s World Cup qualifier in Croatia, Commons is in Las Vegas with clubmates Joe Ledley and Gary Hooper – and tweeted a picture of his friends on the flight out to the USA with the hashtag ‘partytime’. “I think that’s very disappointing,” Brown said. “He’s another manager’s player, so I don’t want to be critical of Commons, but I hear that he’s in Las Vegas or something.
“It doesn’t send out a good, enthusiastic message. If you take him out of it, if a player said he had family reasons and was then in Las Vegas then, no matter who, I would say that’s terrible.
“Disappointed. You want players who are committed to the cause, don’t you?”
Rather than criticise Commons further, Brown went on to give an example of the opposite behaviour, from a player who took his commitment to Scotland beyond what many would regard as reasonable limits. “The player I would like to compliment most is Steven Pressley.
“We had a summer friendly against Ireland in Dublin and we were struggling for a team and I phoned Pressley. I think he was at Hearts at the time. I phoned him and told him about the game and that I needed cover.
“I told him I wasn’t guaranteeing he was starting, but we would try and use him. He hesitated and I knew something was wrong. He told me he was getting married – but he immediately said he would postpone his honeymoon so he could make the game.
“He’s got married the week before, but he made that sacrifice to play for his country. I thought the world of Steven Pressley for that – but the worst thing is I never put him on until injury time. He was on the bench and my mind was wrapped up in the game.
“I apologised to him. He just replied that he would go anywhere at any time for Scotland.”
In Brown’s day, we might all have moaned from time to time about his tendency to use statistics to accentuate the positive – corner kicks were a particular favourite – but some stats were unambiguously in his favour.
Take the qualifying campaign for the 2002 World Cup, in which Scotland played against Croatia in Zagreb’s Maksimir Stadium, as they will do next Friday. After going behind to an Alen Boksic goal, Brown’s team equalised through Kevin Gallacher before half-time. The game, in October 2000, finished 1-1, and Scotland were disappointed with a result which meant they had taken seven points from their first three matches – all away from home.
“We had better players, I’m sure,” Brown said. “But Croatia had better players – big Boksic that scored the goal. Big [Igor] Stimac that kicked everybody. They had really good players too.
“But we had better players too I think, compared to what we have. I was on a course a fortnight ago and the Croatian technical director was there and he said he thought the coach would leave four out and that Luka Modric would be one of them. He told me ‘We are a really good team at the moment’. He wasn’t being bombastic.”
Brown was sent to the stand that night for complaining too vocally about the tactics employed by Stimac and some of his team-mates, but he insisted, perhaps partly in jest, that that was really the fault of assistant manager Archie Knox. “I was sent to the stand for being a very good ventriloquist.
“I was standing and Archie was sitting and what the ref and the fourth official was hearing actually came from Archie. He’s got a foghorn voice as well.
“I was upset at the treatment we were getting from Croatia. Kevin Gallagher was getting battered by Stimac, who was a big dirty animal. Then when wee Dickov came on, Stimac booted him too immediately. The minute he was whacked I complained and the fourth official put me in the stand.
“But a lot of that reason I was put in the stands was because of Archie. Was he [Archie] pissing himself? Yes.
“I’ve been sent off a few times. With Preston at Brighton I had to walk right round the running track and there wasn’t a seat available. When we scored to make it 2-0 ten minutes from time there were plenty of seats. The photographer got a picture of me and it was put up the front of the bus the next away game with the message: This man is innocent.”
“The worst was at Forfar when I was Clyde manager. Archie stood on my player’s head and I’m sure he twisted his studs in. I was on the pitch chasing him when the game was still going. I lost it. Archie turned and saw me and ran away – and Archie can floor me. I never caught him and I was escorted off by two police. You ought to have seen the letter I got from [then SFA secretary] Ernie Walker about my behaviour.”
• Craig Brown was speaking at a Mars Winners’ Event at Hampden Park. Mars are an Official Partner of the Scotland national team.